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Saturday, October 17, 2009

What if Hitler had written "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz"?

South Dakota likes to claim inspiration for L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz on which the movie, The Wizard of Oz was based. Although a prolific writer who produced 50-some novels in a benign vein, Baum is remembered in Indian country for recommending genocide against the Lakota people.  He wrote two editorials on the subject in The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, the first less than a week after the Wounded Knee Massacre. One wonders what inspiration South Dakota contributed to this call for genocidal atrocity. 

Tim Giago asks the question that bothers literary scholars and serious readers of literature.

When the movie was released in 1939, it was indeed a wonder. It was an exciting children's fantasy movie with vivid colors, great songs, and it was a movie with a message. Should this great movie be tainted by the racial sins of the man who wrote the book, L. Frank Baum?

Baum and Adolph Hitler had one thing in common: both called for the genocidal extermination of a race of people; Hitler the Jews, and Baum, the Sioux people of South Dakota.

In an editorial written six days after 300 Lakota men, women and children were massacred at Wounded Knee, Baum wrote, "Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untameble creatures from the face of the earth."

Baum followed that editorial with another. He wrote, "The whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit is broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are."

Fifty years later, another man set out to "annihilate" a race of people. Adolph Hitler did manage to exterminate six million Jews before the roof caved in on him. Hitler also wrote a book called Mein Kampf. In the book he wrote, "Was there any form of filth or profligacy, particularly in cultural life, without at least one Jew involved in it? If you cut even cautiously into such an abscess, you found, like a maggot in a rotting body - often dazzled by the sudden light - a Kike."

For arguments sake, suppose an enterprising producer had made a movie based on Mein Kampf. Would that movie carry the stigma of the author? Perhaps, but critics would argue that Hitler actually accomplished some of his mission in exterminating the Jews, while L. Frank Baum only editorialized about it. But there is no difference in their message. Both called for the genocidal extermination of a race of people.

Then why is L. Frank Baum so loved while Hitler so eternally hated? Suppose the book Mein Kampf was actually a children's book about a fantasyland in the Bavarian Alps. And further suppose that the book was then made into a movie that was highly acclaimed. Would the fact that Hitler wrote the book and that he also called for genocide against the Jews diminish the popularity of the movie? There are probably a plethora of answers to these rhetorical questions. Could it be that the lives of the Jews were more important than the lives of the Indians? After all, the Indians stood in the path of Manifest Destiny and therefore it was God's will that they be removed or eliminated. That makes it alright in the minds of most Americans.

 Read his entire column at the Huffington Post.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States